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Practical Help After A Death
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Practical Help After A Death

It was many years ago in the time when appearance mattered, women wore gloves and everyone remembered their hat in public. Mother’s stayed home and dads were the bread winner.

Tragedy struck. Unexpectedly the man of the house was killed. Understandably the house was in chaos. The wife was in stunned shock. The children ushered away by grief stricken relatives.

Everyone rallied to help; the sense of community being stronger in those days.

In the middle of the angst and the chaos there was a knock at the back door. Upon the door being opened by the nearest relative a little known man from the neighborhood stood quietly, hat in hand, and said simply “I’ve come to shine their shoes”.

He sat quietly on the back step. Unobserved and unobtrusive and one by one shined the shoes of the whole family. They probably only had one pair each, or at least only one good pair. They would need them clean and presentable. There was a funeral to attend.

Some time later, if anyone noticed, all that remained of the kind visitor was a line up of sparkling leather shoes.

I have remembered this touching story since reading it many years ago and I thought of it again tonight. What can we do nowadays when a family is grieving and we are helpless to help?

Truthfully it depends on the situation and how closely involved we are. Our society is often more insular nowadays and when an acquaintance is overwhelmed with a death is hardly the time to barge on in and take over their household or act like a long lost friend.

With tact and consideration here are some suggestions:

  • Send a note or a card – email may be OK but there’s something nice about the ‘old fashioned’ method that says you care and took care to show it.
  • Bake or cook a meal. Many households are overwhelmed with extra visitors or people just popping in to offer condolences. Something that lasts or freezes is ideal too in case there’s an over supply.
  • Offer to mind the pet. If families have to travel unexpectedly for a funeral animal care can be expensive or difficult to find at short notice. Only offer though if you’re appropriately set up to do it!
  • Yard work, laundry, vacuuming and other household chores can be a practical way of helping the family that is likely to have lots of activity on their doorstep…but only if you feel it’s appropriate in the situation.
  • Send flowers or donate to the requested charity.
  • Organize an appropriate gift from the workplace if it’s a colleague.
  • Remember any children involved. The child and their parent appreciate an inexpensive toy. This could be the first experience they’ve had with the strong emotions surrounding them. If it’s appropriate offer to walk them to the park or play a board game. Others close to the child may be too busy or absorbed to give them much time or thought.
  • Remember the event isn’t over just because the funeral is. Be in touch with the grieving person, remembering they may not want to be overly social straight away. If you know the birthday of the deceased it can be nice to remember it in a thoughtful way. Even chatting about the person lets their loved ones know that they are remembered and you care.

I’m sure my list isn’t exhaustive. I’d be interested to hear comments from other’s that have more experience than me.

What’s the most appreciated thing someone has done for you when you were in this situation?


Street Talk

AJ  

A year or so after my beloved grandmother died, her caregiver contacted me for my address. She mailed me an 8x10 picture of my grandmother with a note stating that this was her favorite picture of her and that she had loved her like a second mother. It was the kindest thing anyone has done for me and I cherish that picture to this day.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

What a beautiful thing to do. Thanks for sharing that AJ.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Heather, one thing you mention when the deceased is buried that is not the end. My personal experiences have been tons of support but when the funeral is over you see no one. I agree, then is when the person needs the most support. Talking to others aids the grieving person, if you can talk about the deceased and remember to talk of the good times the healing is so much quicker. Unfortunately this is when the people don't know what to say to you. I have found even with my wife's cancer tell her friends and the phone stops ringing, when you ask why, they say they don't know what to say. Nothing has changed talk to friends they need it.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Unfortunately it's often the way. Sorts out the 'real' friends. Having said that I know some people, although they are lovely, just don't know how to cope with the reality. I saw a man recently and found out his wife left him last year. He's devastated and having known them as a couple I really struggled to know how to keep the conversation going. I stated the fact that I guess everyone is saying the 'wrong thing' and we had a good laugh. It was nice to connect even in this small way. Sometimes just being truthful and honest (as long as it's tactful and kind) is the best thing.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
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